Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Detainee Demographic

Prepared a few days ago, but posted today:

I wonder, was the AP trying to be funny when they put together this story? The first paragraph is the best:
“The U.S. military said Thursday it would release five Iraqi women detainees, a move demanded by the kidnappers of an American reporter to spare her life. A U.S. official said the release had nothing to do with the kidnappers' demand.”
I’m sure it was just a happy coincidence. It’s certainly not the product of any kind of negotiation or anything. No, we don’t negotiate with terrorists. The timing is…convenient, that’s all.

Uh huh.

So if we’re not caving into terrorist demands, why are we releasing these women prisoners? The second paragraph has the reasoning:
“The women will be freed Thursday and Friday as part of a release of 419 Iraqis to be freed after officials concluded there was no reason to keep holding them, said Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, spokesman for the U.S. detention command.”
Great. 419 new former detainees, all apparently innocent, released out into the world. I cheer their freedom, but I also fear for the unintended consequences.

There’s a sociological tendency, not a fact, just a trend, which remains just a tendency until you give it a name, and since I’m not sure if this tendency has been studied or even noticed by academia, I’ll have to give it my own name. Let’s call it “creating a demographic” for lack of a better term. Certain events, large and small, are so significant that they create a collective bond, a demographic so to speak, in individuals who experience them. The 9-11 families would be an example, Holocaust survivors, the WWII “Greatest Generation, each a demographic united by the same traumatic experience.

The individuals in these groups tend to empathize with each other, feeling a brotherhood with those who went through similar ordeals. They view their own subjective experiences in the context of the larger event, and even if they didn’t get blown to smithereens landing on Omaha Beach they know what it could have felt like because they were there. Never estimate the power of I was there too.

And that’s why I’m concerned about these 419 detainees, who apparently weren’t terrorists and did nothing wrong. Now free, they are part of the “Iraqi Detainees” demographic, plugged into all the worst experiences of Abu Ghraib and the rest. Even if they were treated well, wined and dined like dignitaries, they will view their experience in the context of torture and abuse. They will empathize with those who were beaten and killed by their American captors because they too were held in American detention. It has the potential to galvanize them against us, making efforts to rebuild somewhat difficult. If this were just a handful of detainees, I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad. But it’s 419 of them.

Perhaps it’s time to be more discriminating with who we are rounding up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Deconstructing Metallica

When Metallica’s last album came out, no one was quite sure what to make of it. Some people said it would hark back to the old Master of Puppets days, or even And Justice For All because the songs were so long and intricate. Ultimately though, St. Anger didn’t make much of a dent into the popular consciousness or add to the prestige of the band.

The truth of it is that St. Anger is not a pop record, quite unlike Metallica, with its endless supply of radio-ready singles. It’s a metalhead record. I, of course, mean that in the sincerest terms, owing much respect to both the “metal” and the “head.” Metallica established their metal cred long ago, delivering some of the most brutal riffs imaginable, but they also respected the head. In order to decipher the layers of meaning on And Justice For All, you needed a dictionary for all the big words.

But for those who expected a return to the days of Puppets and Justice really don’t know what to expect from musical geniuses, and I’ll go out on the limb saying that the guys in Metallica are “geniuses” in the truest sense of the word. They are not only great performers, but also great composers, whose medium isn’t the staid classical forms but instead the punishing rhythms of metal. Such genius is incapable of going backward, revisiting old territory without keeping it fresh. The sad thing for Metallica is that St. Anger may be too fresh.

It’s a challenging record, an endurance test of metallic proportions. Only four songs are under six minutes in length, and each one is a pummeling long distance that takes more than a casual listen to appreciate. Take one of the longest, and most promising, Invisible Kid.

At eight minutes and thirty seconds, it’s an attempt at epic inclusiveness that succeeds for the most part. If anything, the biggest criticism that could be lobbed at it is that it’s too long, too repetitive, and I’ll agree with those. There is also an anachronistic section at about the five minute mark that literally slows the song down, deflating it like a popped balloon. But given all that, I can’t ignore the power of the song, or its artistic merit.

I think in order fully appreciate this song, you have to understand that it’s all about the drums. The guitar riff rides the drums, the vocals give it the verse-chorus-verse structure. But it is the drums that propel this song forward, and in case you get confused, Lars Ulrich gives us a taste of everything we should expect in the first minute of the song.

Like a brick mason, Ulrich builds it slowly, and like a jazz musician, he provides variations on a theme, adding beats, taking them away. After establishing the exclamatory cymbal clashes at the beginning of the song, he adds a galloping wallop between them for a few bars before kicking the tempo up a notch, filling the space between those two cymbal clashes with as many beats as possible, but still managing to hit them every time. Not content with that, he then sits back and lets a beat drop, giving the rhythm a head swinging stutter. By the time the drums fade out and guitar lead takes over, you will have heard all of the tools in Lars’s toolbox. It’s the language he will speak throughout the song.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sports Minute

Holy Shit!  I can’t say I like Kobe too much.  What with his attitude and his alleged rape (alright, so maybe it was just a little fan-fucking wifey didn’t need to know about), it can’t really be said that Kobe is a man of character.  But one thing is for certain, the man can play some ball.  I haven’t been following the NBA season too closely (what with the Broncos being in the play offs and all), but I have noticed that I keep seeing headlines saying Kobe’s got 30 or Kobe got 40, massive points by any stretch, and he’s been doing it consistently.  His average:  35.9.

The Super Bowl hype starts early.  It’s one thing to be excited by the Super Bowl, but it’s another to claim in the first few paragraphs that it could be one of the best ever.  Yeah, every Super Bowl has the potential for that, and this one certainly has it’s storylines, but wondering if it might be the best Super Bowl ever is a bit premature.  

This statement doesn’t ring true to me either:
Seattle’s Mike Holmgren and Pittsburgh’s Bill Cowher both became head coaches in 1992, and are the league’s two longest-tenured in that position. Cowher has been with Pittsburgh his whole career; Holmgren moved to Seattle in 1999.
I’m not so sure about the “longest-tenured” thing.  What does that mean?  Does it mean the longest time with the same team?  Cowher’s got that one with the Steelers, but Shannahan’s been with the Broncos longer than Holmgren’s been with the Seahawks.  Or does it mean longest time as a head coach?  Well, okay Holmgren has his years, but what about Gibbs?  Shottenheimer?  Parcells?  Granted, those old-timers took time off from head coaching during their careers, so is the “longest-tenured” referring to longest continuous head coaching stint?  And if so, why call it “longest-tenured” in the first place?  It’s debatable, at best, and may in fact just be wrong.

One more thing about the Super Bowl.  This one’s called Super Bowl XL, which kind of has a ring to it.  Extra Large.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Orange and Blue are Through

Speaking of the Super Bowl...the Broncos won't be the favorites to win, after all. The Steelers roundly beat them. I missed the first hour and a half of the game because I was at work, but I listened to it on the radio. I think it was the first challenge, the overturned interception, that took the wind out the Broncos' sails. With that interception, they could have score and got an early lead. That's their strength, score big and hold it. They're not such a great come-from-behind team anymore, not since Elway retired his comeback magic.

I watched the rest of the first half while some Korean lady cut my hair, so as far as analysis goes, that's about it. I watched the second half in a bar with a good rowdy atmosphere, but it's easy to get distracted.

In the end, too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities cost the Broncos a shot at the Super Bowl. To be honest though, it's hard to be too sad. I'm more sad that the season is over, only one more reliably disappointing game and now we must go a whole year without football. But as for the play offs? I didn't even think the Broncos would make it this far. The AFC Championship? That's an accomplishment to be proud of anyway!

I'll be rooting for the Steelers, whoever wins the NFC game. If Seattle wins today, it'll be nice to see them in the Super Bowl for the first time (confirmed that with the wiki.), but I hope the Steelers crush em! I like Bill Cowher. I think he's a good coach with a lot of heart and character, and he puts together good teams. Plus, they're AFC and I have this whole degree of loyalty thing...first the Broncos, then the AFC West because the Broncos are in that division, then the AFC. It's progressive, like the season.

Plus, the way they've been playing, they deserve it.

Post Script: Mark my words. Troy Polamalu is going to be a star in the NFL.

Super Bowl Critics

So I'm looking up a wiki on the Super Bowl because I wanted to see who the Steelers played in their last Super Bowl and I found this choice nugget under criticisms:

"Critics of the Super Bowl and Super Bowl Sunday sometimes point to the following:

* Alcohol related crashes and deaths peak on Super Bowl Sunday in the United States. [3]

However, since there are so far no recorded incidents of team managers and/or players tying down drivers and forcing them to ingest large amounts of alcohol before getting behind the wheel on the day of the game, this criticism is usually considered irrelevant."

Uh....good point.

And now for Something New

Sanaa Lathan has a new movie coming out called Something New, a kind of reverse Jungle Fever where she apparently discovers the joys of dating white boys. I have to admit this has been a fantasy of mine for a while, ever since I saw her in Out of Time with Denzel, of course the white boy in my fantasies would be me.

Sanaa Lathan is one of the sexiest, classiest actresses in Hollywood right now. Most guys slobber over that skank Pamela Anderson. I drool for Sanaa...

Not the Crime but the Cover-up

An admitted crook getting face time with Dubya? Despite what the White House is saying these days, it looks like Bush did meet with Abramoff several times and someone has the pictures to prove it. Of course, this doesn't prove that Abramoff and the President had a "sitdown" to discuss some "business" Coreleone style, but it does prove the President is a liar.

Of course, if you've been paying attention the last five years, you knew that already. Like most politicians, Bush has all the integrity of a limp noodle.

Adventures in the Blogosphere

A few highlights from today's tour of the liberal blogosphere.

James Wolcott takes issue with how the right-wing is trying to spin Osama's latest tape:

...a NY editorial titled 'Nuts!' begins with a little historical lesson explaining the cover line.

"It may be the most famous one-word sentence in American military history, and it's time to dust it off after yesterday's pronouncement from Osama bin Laden: 'Nuts!' That's how Brigadier Gen. Anthony McAuliffe responded to the Nazis when asked to surrender the town of Bastogne on December 19, 1944. Outnumbered and surrounded by Panzer tanks, McAuliffe gave his one word response to a courier."

Did you see the problem with this Victor Davis Hanson-ing? The United States isn't surrounded by superior forces, we're the world's military superpower, the one with the tanks and the "imperial grunts," and Bin Laden is a single individual holed up somewhere along the outlaw border, yet the NY Sun would have us believe we're the scrappy underdog with the never-say-die attitude.

Okay, James, good point on the historical metaphor being lame, but aren't we quibbling a little, here? I'd say "Nuts" to Osama Bin Laden too. Actually...I'm not sure what that even means, so I'd say something more modern, like "Go fuck yourself!"

(Thanks to justacoolcat for the pic.)

Someone named DarkSyde has advice for turning the tables on the GOP here:

So, when the extremist nutcases in our country start comparing patriotic Democrats and Progressives with Osama bin Laden, welcome the opportunity to point out that the present incarnation of the GOP is controlled by the religious right, the Theocons, who bear disturbing parallels to the most wanted man in the world. And you don't have to be able to whip out a bunch of quotes, all you need to remember is a simple soundbite and they will open the door for you.

It's a great idea, and it should stick...but almost five years later, the Osama-Jesusfreak connection just doesn't seem to have any staying power. Remember the hubbub over Jerry Falwell's comments immediately after 9-11, blaming the attacks on gays and the ACLU? It was clear to me then, and I'm sure a lot of other intelligent people, that the only thing separating Osama from the Left Behind crowd was semantics. One group calls their god Jesus, the other Allah. Both dieties, despite using different terminology, are intolerant hateful gods, but since each religion is so individually self-righteous, their followers can't see past these similarities. To Christian fundamentalists, hating gay people isn't wrong because it's divinely sanctioned, and to Muslims, so is hating infidels. If God's on your side, you can't be wrong, right? (I suppose that all depends on whether God is really on your side or not...but I'll leave that discussion for another day.)

DarkSyde has more perspective here:

They are vehemently against abortion, they resist progressive woman's rights. They view homosexuality as a crime against nature and God, some advocate the death penalty as an option for it. Separation of Church and State is despised by these folks; they insist the nation is founded on the principles of their religion, and they work hard to bring that de facto theocracy about. They deplore strong language, gay characters, and sexual content on TV and in the media. And they ignore the Geneva Convention when it suits their ideological purposes, including provisions against torture or due process. They're anti-stem cell research, pro-creationism, and generally distrustful of science. These folks are easily whipped into a state of frenzy with ideological manipulation to the point where they will commit violence, or at least tacitly endorse that violence is acceptable, if it advances their Divine agenda. They then take great pains to justify that violence, including unprovoked attack of civilian areas, under certain conditions, with convoluted theological gymnastics. They are almost to the man pro-death penalty ... Am I railing against the religious right again?

Nope, that would be Al Qaeda, who if they were Christian instead of Muslim, would probably by considered "allies" in the culture wars by the American religious right.

Glenn Greenwald from Crooks and Liars on the GOP's 2006 election strategy:

What lies at the center of so many of our current political controversies is fear. Fear-mongering is the one and only weapon which Bush followers use time and again to solidify their support. When Karl Rove says, as he did yesterday, that "national security" is going to be the centerpiece of the GOP pitch leading into the 2006 elections, what he means is that they are going to spend the next 10 months doing everything possible to scare Americans as much as possible so that they once again dispense with all other issues and throw themselves into the arms of the party which promises to be their Protector.

So in other words, nothing has changed. Bush will continue to ride the swells of 9-11 like Laird Hamilton on a big wave. He'll remind townhalls stocked with his breathless supporters that "Terrorists are trying to kill us" and that he's committed to defeating them.

It sounds great on paper, and if you're one of the bedwetters who lives in fear of the next terrorist attack, the "Be very afraid" message might resonate with you, but it's really little more than chest thumping. True there hasn't been a terrorist attack in the United States since 9-11-01. But prior to that, there hadn't been a terrorist attack in the United States since 4-19-95, the day when a truck full of fertilizer destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. (It's interesting to note that the perpetrator of that attack, up until then the worst terrorist attack on US soil, was a right-wing white boy who presumably prayed to Jesus right before they executed him.) Of course, that's not to say that terrorism isn't a problem, or an important problem. But let's have some perspective, shall we?

When compared to catastrophes of a similar nature, 9-11 is not the earth-shattering event that the collective consciousness makes it out to be. I've been accused of being smug by dissecting this line of thought, but consider other atrocities throughout history and see how 9-11 stacks up. You can go back as far as you want, from the Trojan War on down to Masada, the Crusades, even including such modern horrors as the Holocaust. Hell, if you want to keep it recent, just go back to the 90s, where at the time, the eastern edge of Europe was re-fighting old battles in the Balkans.

In July 1995, the Serb army encircled a UN-designated "safe area" (which in UN speak means, well, nothing) called Srebrenica. Srebrenica, an ancient mountain town (the Romans operated a silver mine nearby) in Bosnia, had been bulging for the last two years with tens of thousands of mostly-Muslim refugees, who had either been forcibly removed by Serbian ethnic cleansing or white hot fear. (And this wasn't "Chicken Little" the-sky-is-falling fear; this was they-killed-my-whole-family-and-now-they're-going-to-kill-me fear.) Now with Srebrenica effectively in Serbian control, thousands of refugees attempted to escape through the woods to nearby Tuzla, a Bosnian army stronghold. For a whole week, it was open season on Muslims in those woods. When it was all over, the Serbs had massacred over 7000 Muslim men and boys.

What happened in Srebrenica was whole-scale slaughter. It wasn't an attempt to get a misguided cause on the front page of every newspaper in the world, or a largely symbolic attack relying on collateral damage to make its statement. This was a coordinated effort to wipe an ethnic group off the planet, and it almost worked. The 7000 Muslims killed during that horrible week in July will not be coming back. To make matters worses, justice has yet to be served. The perpetrators of the attack (Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic) are still free men, wanted by the Hague for war crimes but still being protected (at least informally) by Serbia.

So let's just compare these two events, as disparate as they may seem, for a moment.

On 9-11, 19 hijackers used 4 airplanes to launch simultaneous sneak attacks on multiple mostly civilian targets. 3 out of 4 attacks were successful. The goal, to create terror in the population and get mentioned in the papers, bringing attention to their cause of Islamic revolution.

In July 95, a large division of the Serbian army used war jets, artillery, anti-aircraft guns (pointed at the ground), small arms, chemical weapons, and knives to launch attacks on a UN-Designated safe area teeming with civilian refugees. The goal, clearing the land of Muslims, killing as many as possible in the process.

On 9-11, most of those who died from "collateral damage." They were passengers on a plane, employees at the office, or rescue workers caught in the damage. In other words, innocent victims, civilians mostly, whose only crime was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Srebrenica, most of those who died were shot, blown up, or had their throats slit, killing methods just as heinous but more personal and much more deliberate. Their crime? Being Muslim in a war of Serb conquest, or in other words, being the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time. They too were mostly civilians.

Now both of these events, 9-11 and Srebrenica, are unquestionably horrific. It's a stain on our species that we as homo sapiens would be capable of either atrocity. But it's only our patriotic empathies as Americans that makes 9-11 the be-all, end-all change-everything event that most people consider it to be. In purely human terms, the death and destruction outside Srebrenica in 1995 was twice as bad and more than seven times as long. The methods, conventional weapons on a civilian population, and the eventual goal, cleaning out the gene pool by murder, are just as horrific, if not more, than those of the 9-11 hijackers, with their unconventional weapons and murder-as-PR idealogy.

The difference, I suppose, is that we all watched over and over that day as the planes kept hitting the towers and the towers kept falling. We lived with those horrific images for weeks, months. The survivors live with them still. 9-11, whether we like it or not, is seared into our consciousness in a way that greater tragedies are not. And that's why it remains a potent image, an emblem easily exploited by those who are used to exploiting opportunities.

When it comes to outrage, I direct it mostly at the wrongdoers who commit these atrocities. In Srebrenica, it was the Serbs and their maniacal commander, Mladic. On 9-11 it was Osama and his terrorist toadies. But there are other layers of outrage that should be addressed. What the fuck was the UN doing in Srebrenica? Why designate it a safe area, ensuring that it would become a refugee magnet, then do nothing to protect it? (Interesting fact: The only country willing to send a military force large enough to protect Srebrenica was Iran. The UN declined the offer and enlisted the Dutch, who set up a handful of observation posts manned by a handful of soldiers. They put up no resistance when the Serbs rolled in.)

Unlike Srebrenica, there was no negligence on anyone's part. Perhaps airport security, but at the time who could have predicted what eventually happened? Then there's that whole thing about Bush getting the memo that says "Osama Bin Laden Determined to Attack in America." Even then, no one could have predicted what was going to happen. (In fact, I suspect that Osama and his conspirators were privately surprised at the level of death and destruction. I mean, come on. Flying planes into the White House and the Pentagon? That's kid stuff. The Columbine killers thought of that a long time ago. That's just...stupid.)

But the outrage comes from using 9-11 as a crutch, as an excuse, as a mea culpa for pretty much anything. And that's what it's become with the Bush Administration. It's their get out of jail free card, the master key that unlocks all the doors for them. Because of 9-11, the Bush Administration have reserved for themselves powers that no administration should have. Wiretapping without a warrant? Uh, no. Declaring people "enemy combatants" and holding them without due process? Uh, no. Legalizing torture? Uh, no.

And I'm not even going to mention the country the Bush Administration destroyed in our name. 9-11 was the reason for that too.